The House GOP leadership has a decision to make on the Balanced Budget Amendment vote promised in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
In the Senate, all the Republican senators have signed onto Senate Joint Res. 10, the Hatch-Lee Balanced Budget Amendment. This is a strong bill. It protects the taxpayers with supermajorities for tax increases, forbids courts from ordering tax increases in the case of an imbalance and holds revenues to 18% of Gross Domestic Product.
In the House, there is a similar bill, House Joint Res. 1, sponsored by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R.-Va.). If mated with the Hatch-Lee bill, this will produce a serious and responsible constitutional amendment to the states.
The odds are overwhelming that neither the House, nor the Senate will approve any BBA by the constitutionally required two-thirds majorities, 290 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate, so the issue then will return to the House GOP leadership.
There are some in the Republican House Conference who believe that if they put forward a weaker BBA, they can persuade 50 House Democrats to join them and thus put the ball in the Senate’s court, daring the Senate Democrats to vote it down.
How weak? They would lower the votes needed for tax increases and spending increases and omit protection against judges’ getting into the act. Simply put, their price is to have all of the games and gimmicks that have plagued our post-FDR budgets enshrined in the Constitution.
Most Democrats needing a BBA cloak are lining up behind a bill by Sen. Mark E. Udall (D.-Colo.). Udall’s bill, Senate Joint Res. 24, locks away the deficit-expanding Social Security as an off-budget playground and by extension encases the program in the Constitution.
The bill also allows the BBA to be waived in time of war or military action. Translation: No balanced budget for the last 10 years or the next few over the horizon.
Only a Democrat could propose a BBA with a loophole that would have disabled it for the decade prior and continuing into the unforeseen future.
But, hey, relax. No BBA is getting two-thirds in the both chambers.
This brings us back to the House GOP leadership. If they go forward with their plan to promote a weak BBA, they will accomplish two things.
First, they will move the debate to the left, since what are the chances that the Senate GOP would be supporting a more conservative BBA than House Republicans?
Second, they will provide cover for all the House Democrats terrified of voting against a BBA. Brilliant. A weak BBA should be called the “Blue Dog Protection Act of 2011.”
To prevent the House Democrats from being able to run ads proclaiming their support of a weak BBA while their GOP opponents are stuck in the weeds trying to explain, the House GOP leadership must put up H.J.3, the Goodlatte BBA and stop negotiating against the Hatch-Lee bloc in the Senate. This is both the right and correct course.